I spoke at the Tri-Province Forum on Publishing in Winnipeg last week about e-books and e-journals. The audience was a small group of publishers from western Canada and funding agency representatives from the Government of Canada and The Canada Council for the Arts.
I told my audience that e-books were here already and would be used more and more in various areas of publishing, including fiction. The reaction to my presentation was quite positive, considering that this is a subject on which publishers are seldom neutral.
I used the term 'traditional e-books' to describe e-books which were simply words on a screen – digitized text that looked the same on screen as on paper. Such e-books still have a lot of advantages or potential advantages including the abilitiy to search for key words. The cost of a digitized text is usually significantly lower than that of a paper product and, of course, e-books are easily stored, shipped and carried (students need not carry Mt. Everest backpacks back and forth to class).
The new standard I suggest for e-books has nothing to do with DRM or witch hunts against PDF: it involves interactivity and features which can make an e-book an experience rather than an imitation of a paper book.
The letter E in the born-digital e-books of the future will stand for Experience: the experience of hearing and seeing the author or critics discussing or reading the book; the experience of linking to other books, sites and experiences; and the experience of using incorporated video, audio and even game components in the book.
You'll hear more about such products in the near future, and the e-books you currently have on your laptop, PDA or iPod will seem very traditional and clunky.